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Directed by Rob Letterman. Produced by Deborah Forte and Neal H. Moritz. Written by Darren Lemke. Release date: October 16, 2015.

On paper, Goosebumps is an even more child-friendly version of Pixels, except instead of videogame characters, we’ve got the monsters from the R.L. Stine‘s titular book series. If you vividly remember that series, and those memories are positive, then Goosebumps will play like a nostalgia-fest, where you constantly try to pick out various monsters, reminisce about the stories from which they appear, and ignore everything else. If you aren’t fond of the books, then you’re likely just going to feel apathetic about the whole experience.

Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mother (Amy Ryan) begin the film moving to Madison, Delaware, after the mother accepted a job to be the assistant principal at the high school. They’re neighbors to a reclusive man (Jack Black) and his daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Zach, being a no-good do-gooder, recruits his friend, Champ (Ryan Lee) and breaks into the house next door to “save” Hannah, whom he believes is being held prisoner. Once inside, he finds several Goosebumps manuscripts, which are locked for some reason. He opens one, which eventually causes a chain reaction, and then monsters appear, because the aforementioned recluse is a fictionalized version of R.L. Stine, and he is so magical that he made actual monsters.

Goosebumps CineMarter #1

The story makes as much sense as any individual Goosebumps book, which is what it’s trying to do. You either buy in, which means you don’t need a good explanation – the film doesn’t provide much of one – or you can’t believe in any of it, and the film will fall apart for you. Chances are that most of the adults in the crowd, who have long since moved on from the Goosebumps books, will struggle to become invested. The kids, meanwhile, who perhaps are just making their way through the series, will be completely involved in what’s going on. This is a movie for them, and for anyone who still loves the Goosebumps books.

There is something to be said about the loving way the film goes about representing its source material and presenting it to the audience. There isn’t a bone of cynicism directed from Goosebumps to either of those potential targets. It’s not aiming to be an ironic enjoyment of the book series; it genuinely enjoys them, and its target audience contains those who still enjoy them, too. The reason that Goosebumps is a better movie than Pixels is because you can tell it doesn’t have contempt for the material it used as inspiration, or for those who enjoy those things.

Goosebumps is a loving greatest-hits compilation, but it’s little more than that.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make a good movie. It isn’t as successful in most other areas. The monster special effects, which are pretty key, are lackluster at best, likely due to a relatively small budget of only $58 million. It’s not very scary, and it only has a few moment of genuine comedy. The characters are either one-dimensional or reveal to us their “depth” through out-of-place monologues. The plot, once it gets going, never stops to give us a breath, which is overwhelming and leads to a couple of subplots and supporting characters going nowhere. There’s an obligatory romance that gets very little time to develop. The twist at the end only serves to undercut part of the film’s message. And the acting, outside of Jack Black, is not very good. But, then, what do you expect? The director is Rob Letterman, the man behind Shark Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Gulliver’s Travels, three movies that you’d be much better off never thinking about again.

“Jack Black is the best actor in the movie” is a phrase I never thought I’d say, but it’s true in this case. Black makes a fairly effective R.L. Stine, which is another thing I never thought I’d say. He gets most of the funny lines, he’s creepy when he needs to be, and he commands the screen. His younger co-workers, meanwhile, struggle to show much of any emotion and give us very little insight into their characters. Dylan Minnette is a bland lead, Odeya Rush is at her best when she’s condescending – once she starts being a “good” character, it all falls apart – and Ryan Lee plays a stereotype.

Goosebumps is a loving greatest-hits compilation, but it’s little more than that. It’s nice that it doesn’t have a seething hatred for both its source material and its audience, but that’s not enough to make it a good movie. Thanks to a lack of scares or laughs, mediocre special effects, and bad acting from everyone not named “Jack Black,” Goosebumps is a movie whose greatest appeal is to children who haven’t learned that there are much more sophisticated stories out there. May I recommend Stephen King?

Bottom Line: Goosebumps will give you nostalgia if you still hold the titular series in high regard, but if that’s not the case, it’ll come across as a relentless, but not terribly engaging, monster movie.

Recommendation: If you’re still reading (and enjoying) the Goosebumps books, you’ll probably love the movie. If that’s not the case, go ahead and skip it.



If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.

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